Achingly merciless, London-born author Sidhu’s 12 short stories sharply delineate the edges of identity and sanity.
Playwright, novelist and Pushcart Prize winner Sidhu populates his collection with Indian diaspora. These haunting tales simultaneously attract and repel, enchant and shatter, evoking the ambiguous relationships between past and present, others and self. An airplane crash prompts a gas station employee to descend deeper and deeper into a madness in which everything, beginning with India itself, drops out of existence. Hoping to gain self-confidence and perhaps love, a young woman joins a decluttering class and finds herself drawn to a serial killer. A diplomat’s wife has spent so many years adapting to new cultures that she is dismayed to learn of her husband’s plan to retire. With the discovery of her pet python’s death, her confusion—what could India possibly mean to her now, after so many years and so many personas?—merges with an erotically tinged grief. Mysteriously promoted from a bottom-rung post in Africa to a cushy job in San Francisco, an alcoholic Indian diplomat tries to figure out why everyone believes he is an Urdu poet. Complicating matters are his emotionless lover and her father, who wields a strange power over her. A man’s addiction to classic novels impels him to hire a professional reader, which ruins his marriage. The discovery of a skull at an orphanage catalyzes a cult, a cult that replicates the hierarchy and complicity of colonization. Each ending seems unfinished, leaving each heart cracked open, perhaps to endure more pain or perhaps to remain simply unfulfilled. Deftly sifting through a range of less-often-visited emotions, Sidhu creates inscrutable characters inhabiting bewildering circumstances.
Smart, provocative and poignantly disturbing, this collection, the author's U.S. debut, signals a writer to watch.